Martwayne | Power Through Fashion: 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

So tell me... Do You Know Who You Really Are as a Fashion Designer?!



Simple enough question right?! I thought so too... but after relating to a few people, I decided to write a post on this topic to get designers to actually start looking deep within to discover who they really are as designers and what their design aesthetic is.

Let me take you back to a conversation I was having with a friend sometime last week.

He was firmly of the opinion that designers needed to start with market segmentation and identify their markets first before coming up with their designs. His explanation was simple enough. "You need to know what the market wants before you design". I told him point blank that I did not agree with him! That logic may work in other industries but not in the creative industries and definitely not in the fashion industry!

My reason?

Yes it may make sense from a theoretical point of view but identifying your market before knowing who you are as a designer and what your design aesthetic is is like pulling the cart before the horse. You will be unable to sustain it in the long run!

As a fashion designer and this of course applies to those who plan to build careers in the industry or become fashion entrepreneurs, you need to have a design signature. You need to know what you can do, what you like to do, what comes naturally to you, what your vision is for the person you would like to dress and of course, who your ideal customer is. You do not go out looking for the customers first and then decide to come up with designs to suit that customer! I mean who does that?! Ok so what happens if all the market wants is "high fashion" as is usually the case over here and all you really want to focus on is lingerie or even sportswear? Would you go out of your way to continue creating "high fashion" when you know deep down what you want to do is totally different? I tell you and I may have said it before... "there is nothing worse than loving what you do and not enjoying it!"

I remember when I first started out, people told me that the market wanted ankara and made-to-measure clothing. I knew first, I did not want to work with ankara for so many reasons or go down the bespoke route. I had nothing against the fabric or sewing for people. It simply was not the vision I had for my business... or should I say it simply was not something I wanted to constitute a substantial proportion of my business. BUT did I listen to people? Yes. Did I dabble into an area I didn't have much passion for or expertise in? Yes. Did I get burnt? YES!

I also remember when magazines wanted my work or people wanted me to participate in fashion shows, I kept getting requests for "high fashion" clothing...and I quote... "never before seen, unique items" (whatever that means) or "Lady Gaga-ish clothes". I told the people... sorry... I do not do high fashion. It is simply not me as a designer. That is not to say I cannot come up with something if I wanted to... but I would assume the reason for putting my clothes in magazines and on the runway is for publicity and also to make sales. I didn't see the point if I did not plan to replicate those clothes for anyone who liked them and wanted to order them. So for me, I felt it was better to channel all my energy into the areas I knew I wanted to specialize in.

So what am I saying?! ...and this is my personal opinion...

I believe that as a designer, you have to search deep within, determine what you like create, you decide (not the market or a consultant) who your ideal customer is and most importantly focus on the vision you have for your passion and business.

Once you are absolutely sure of what your mission is, then go out to look for your target customer. Conduct adequate research, TEST your designs for feedback from your intended market and then tweak your designs to suit what your market wants...because after all, you do have to sell your designs to make a living. But the truth is... there will always be a market. But detailed research is key! Conducting your research can simply be asking as many people as you can if they will buy your designs and what changes they would like. If you are targeting a middle class market and your designs are too expensive for them, look for ways of cutting down costs such as alternative fabric choices, minimize details without losing the very essence of the design, cheaper production techniques and the likes.

Do not let people drag you into bespoke clothing simply because they feel that is where the market is if all you want to do is retail or vice versa. Do not let people force you into menswear when all you want to do is womenswear. Do not let the market force you into selling fabrics if all you want to do is design. Now that is not to say you cannot set up parallel businesses for these different areas if you have the capacity... but my point is... know what you want to do and do not get swept by the tide. If you dabble in an area you are not comfortable with, you run the risk of either not having the ability to continue to churn out creative designs suitable for that area (well except you employ a designer) or have the capacity to continue to produce such highly detailed work. If you choose to operate outside your comfort zone, do it when you are ready and not out of desperation else you will be frustrated!

And most importantly, surround yourself with the right people. Seek advice from people who understand your industry and who will not merely give you theories that should work in the "ideal" world. And even if they do not have an in-depth knowledge of your industry, do not let them change the vision you have for your business. I have come across many people who have tried to make me change my vision but thankfully I remained firmly rooted in my beliefs and I think it is paying off...at least even if nothing else, I am happier now...

SO

I challenge you to go into a quiet place (or noisy place if you so please), say a prayer asking God to help you with this journey of self discovery, pick a pencil and a piece of paper or your journal, draw the very first sketch that comes to your mind and write down 10 things about your abilities as a designer (what you like to do, what comes easily to you, what details you like to put in your clothes, if you want to sew for people or go retail, menswear or womenswear, lingerie or maternity wear, who your ideal customer is, etc), try and describe your design aesthetic or principles in 3 words and finally write down the vision you have for yourself. Be true to yourself.

Do this 2 or 3 times or as often as you can and when you are firmly rooted in your convictions, then start to write a life plan for your fashion business, even if it is a mere hobby or a serious business. When you complete this task, discuss it with someone, could be a family member or a mentor. If you have no-one or need help with this task, feel free to send me an e-mail on xxaaviere@gmail.com and I will be glad to assist.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Have a pleasant week!

Cheers!


Saturday, October 29, 2011

There really is A WHOLE LOT MORE to fashion than mere sewing...




True that! This picture just gives a snapshot of the different areas a designer can choose to focus on without necessarily engaging in bespoke wear. These are the different areas I have dabbled in in the past and some of these pictures are samples of my work (though I only provided the clothes for the shoot in the last picture). But yes I have even done a bit of fashion styling, photography and hair & make-up even though they fall outside my area of expertise. But really, a designer should really be an all-rounder since we are responsible for creating the vision. We are the catalysts that set the ball rolling for the other areas of the industry and seeing we cannot be a jack of all trades, we have to outsource certain parts of the design process to other professionals in the field.

Now why do I feel so strongly about this topic? Because I've been getting an earful from people on how I am "wasting my skills" simply because I decided to stop sewing for people. Sometimes I wonder if "not sewing for people" translates to "not providing clothing to my target market" or worse, makes me any less of a designer. Ok, perhaps I should say this here. I do plan to provide clothing to people but I have chosen to focus on a retail market rather than a bespoke market. And no I am not totally abandoning bespoke, it will just constitute a tiny part of my portfolio.

I recall a conversation I was having with a friend 2 nights ago. We were catching up on each other's businesses when she says "Oh I need you to make something for me". And my response was: "No sorry I can't. I don't make clothes for people anymore". Then there came the all-too-familiar pause I get from people when I make this statement and then the all-too-familiar question... Ok... so if you are not sewing, then what are you using your fashion skills for?

And that is the same question I get asked over and over again.

Truth is there is so much more to the Fashion Industry than the usual "cut and sew" we do in Nigeria and I mean this in no disrespectful way whatsoever. When I tell people that most design students I engaged with in South Africa actually wanted to be buyers than designers, I get a blank look. But oh, how can they understand what I'm talking about when no such job description exists in this environment. Well except for the owner of a boutique who goes abroad to buy her stock...which is a form of "buying" in its own way.

BUT my point is too many people in Nigeria view fashion strictly from a "bespoke" or "made to measure" perspective. They believe you MUST sew if you claim you are a fashion designer. In fact, too many designers in Nigeria have been led to believe, either from pressure or circumstances, that the only way to survive in the Nigerian Fashion Industry is to necessarily make clothes for people but I beg to differ! What about boutiques and stockists? Would one say they are not part of the Industry simply because they do not create the clothes they sell? Does that make them any less successful than people who sew?

Take me for example. When I came back from Fashion School, I knew the areas of fashion I wanted to focus on. I knew it had to be Fashion Retail rather than Bespoke Clothing simply because I did not have the patience for bespoke. But of course, people felt I had to operate in the "ankara" and "aso-ebi" market, which necessarily meant bespoke clothing. Of course there was a lot of money to be made in that segment of the market but I knew that was so not what I wanted to do. I just wanted to create my designs in standard sizes and produce them for the mass market.

But just so I was not regarded as one who never listened to advice, I got involved in that area for a bit all in a bid to make money and satisfy people but got severely burnt! Staying up till 4am at the sewing machine was not my cup of tea and I decided in July this year it had to stop even if it meant not earning revenue for a while so I could properly plan my business and strategies. I tell you this people, there is nothing worse than loving what you do and not enjoying it.

Now should a designer sew his/her garments or run their own production unit? Well what I say is if there is a business case for it and you can get someone with high quality control standards, then sure why not?! But really, the task of a designer is really to create a concept and get people that can help her realize her vision. A designer needs to work with a design team to assist with the concept and a marketing team who can ensure that these products get to the target market. Of course, she needs to create the clothes and that is where production is. But she does not necessarily have to produce the clothes. This can be outsourced to a competent production factory, which, unfortunately in our environment, is comprised mostly by the local tailors, and ensure the clothes are produced to her satisfaction.

Look at the major players in the global fashion industry vis-a-vis why China is a force to be reckoned with in the world today. When I speak to people, I ask them how many global designers actually produce their own clothes. I challenge you to pick up one of your shirts right now and take a look at the label. More often than not, you will find "Made in Bangladesh" or "Made in China" or made in some other Asian company. I believe designers over here need to collaborate more with each other to get this Industry to where it should be.

When people tell me there is mass unemployment, I tell them well people just don't want to work. If people really needed jobs, all they had to do was target a designer and collaborate with her and she will be smiling to the bank. The typical designer is overworked in this environment. In fact, people can earn a living while in school as designers are constantly looking for assistance. There are so many areas particularly with production such as pattern making, that people can make money from. Just look at companies like Butterick and McCalls who have made so much money simply from creating patterns.

I think our environment needs a complete reorientation and designers need to take themselves more seriously if we want other industries to take us seriously. Fashion Design is an art and it really is no different from Architecture. We, designers, need to let people realize that and the sooner we start to put certain structures in place and make people realize than we are a whole lot more than mere machinists, the more respect we will get and the easier life will be for all of us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fashion Beyond Stitches...


Why "Fashion Beyond Stitches" you ask??? Well the name was coined after several days of deliberation on how exactly to pass my message across to various stakeholders in the fashion industry. After months of operating in the Nigerian Fashion Industry as a designer, I was faced with so many challenges, I thought it was simply ridiculous that every single person in the industry seemed to be facing so many issues in their various fashion businesses and no one was willing to do anything about it.

Coming from a totally different professional background and studying Fashion in an environment that seemed to work, you can imagine the culture shock when I came back with all my "skills" and high hopes that I was about to revolutionalize the Nigerian Fashion Industry, then BAM!... I was faced with the reality of the situation. It's one thing to learn fashion the "right" way in a structured environment, it's another to apply the knowledge in an Industry that had absolutely no clue what the Industry was about or worse, was unwilling to change its mindset!

Yes there is so much money to be made here, no doubt, but truth is, more often than not, most fashion designers in Nigeria have been faced with the reality that although their bank accounts enjoy a lot of cash inflows, on closer look, their businesses were actually running at a loss. Even the renowned designers in the Industry still complain about how things just don't work in this environment! Of course there is the "Nigerian Factor" (whatever that means...) then the electricity issue, the lack of adequate fabrics and supplies for our creations, and the most important thing vital to the success of any fashion establishment... tailors! Goodness, let's not even get started on the tailors.

Now seeing that we operate in a highly fragmented industry with simply no structures or regulations in place one would think it would only be natural for us designers to come together with one voice and work together to build the industry but NO!...we are too busy competing with ourselves and not looking ahead enough to realize that collaboration is the only way this industry can move forward.

Now the problem not only lies with our employees but also with us, the designers, and the markets we serve. Now the environment expects the designer to create the concept, create the patterns (if they actually work with patterns), do the "cutting", sew the garments, arrange for the fittings (oh...sorry I forgot...the average customer does not even realize that there is a need to come for a fitting and some of us do not bother to tell them), market our products, plan towards the fashion shows....the list is endless! The average designer does so much, there's little wonder why a lot of them break down or abandon the business for something less strenuous. I have renewed respect for our local tailors who churn clothes out in less than a day. Let's ignore the fact that most of them engage in pliagiarism but how they do it?! I have no clue. Never mind that more often than not, there are errors with the garments or the finishing but putting together a garment in one day?! Amazing!

Anywayz...

Why I established this section on this blog?! To try and create awareness on how better this Industry can function to make life easier for all stakeholders in the Industry. First we need to realize that there is so much more to fashion than mere sewing and because one is a designer or would like to plug into the fashion industry does not necessarily mean one has to become a dressmaker. In fact there are so many other things our Industry is lacking that people can make so much money from if only they knew where to look.

I have tried to find different avenues to spread my message and have succeeded a bit in the past, but I decided to go back to blogging and put "my fingers to my keyboard" to continue to talk about an area of fashion most of us do not discuss... the nitty gritty of how fashion really works. Even I am still learning... BUT I am hoping this blog will become a form of educational resource for anyone remotely interested in or already participating in the Industry such as designers, students, entrepreneurs, illustrators, photographers, I.T Personnel and even accountants. I think the Industry has been neglected far enough and if we do not take ourselves seriously, no one else will. I want graduates to scramble to work with designers the same way job-seekers scramble to work with banks and oil companies. It will take a while but we all know that "Rome wasn't built in a day".

So here's hoping you enjoy our blog, learn from us and also share your knowledge with us and spread the message.

Cheers!